ACCOUNTABILITY: What Would You Do?

AS A SPORTS PARENT….OR AS A COACH….WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF….

You’re an adult attending a HS basketball game between two rival high schools, The game is close….the stands are packed…a lot is riding on the outcome of the game.

You notice that a group of students begin to start to shout and make less than flattering comments about the visiting team, and also about the ref’s. Their comments get even worse after a close and debatable call is made.

And then, in the second half, as some of the visiting players are fouled and go to the free throw line, just as each player begins to focus on their free throw, those same rowdy HS kids become extremely loud and obnoxious and try to distract the opposing player.

As an adult spectator, would you step up and say something to these obnoxious kids, and tell them to exhibit some better behavior?

Or do you just sit back and assume that this kind of behavior is normal and accepted these days? Or assume that either a security guard or the athletic director will come by and tell the kids to behave?

In other words, what would you do if you found yourself in this kind of situation?

When I asked this hypothetical question to the audience at the Yogi Berra Museum a few weeks ago, their response was divided. Some said they would bring this rowdy behavior to the attention to the authorities in the hope that appropriate actions would be taken. of the AD.

Others, however, said that this is just part of our American sports culture these days, and not only are the students in the stands – and their parents —  accepting of it…but somewhat surprising (at least to me) so are the players on the court.

What do you think?

The majority of my callers on my radio show said that either they had stood up and chastised the obnoxious kids….but that the key to getting the kids to behave was to reprimand them politely and with respect, and most importantly, with a sense of authority. Each caller said that when those key components were part of the equation, the kids would back down right away.

One caller did suggest that no, there’s no need to make the kids behave. After all, he wanted his young kids to learn how to deal with obnoxious crowds as they got older. But that was the one caller who had a dissenting opinion. Everybody else made it clear that kids today need to conform to social convention, and if they get out of control, then either the refs can stop the game and demand the kids be ushered out, or that the AD or security can make sure the kids leave.

In other words, the kids have to be held accountable for their outlandish actions.

THE NEXT HYPOTHETICAL

You’re the head coach, and your HS team is playing a cross-town rival in basketball and your team really needs a win. Problem is, you’re playing one of the league’s leading teams so you know it’s going to be an uphill battle.

The opposing team – which has a first-year coach who may not know the rule book — comes out for the opening tip wearing some really sharp, very stylish uniforms. They’re wearing them for the very first time. And these uni’s are totally different from the traditional or standard look with the HS name or mascot name on the front, with numbers on front and back.

But as the head coach, you actually know the league rule book cold. And you know that these new uniforms worn by the other team simply do not conform with the league’s very strict regulations on team uni’s.

Under league rules, you also know you are entitled to a forfeit because the other team probably didn’t clear their new uniforms with league officials. And today, the opposing team didn’t bring any other uniforms they could change into.

As the head coach who knows the rules, what do you do? Just overlook the mistake and play the game?

Put the game under protest with the refs, but still play?

Or bring out the rule book, show where your team is entitled to a forfeit and claim it, without playing the game? Remember, your team really needs this win.

The people who responded today said they would definitely put the game under protest with the refs….but then play the game. It wouldn’t be fair to either team just to call for a forfeit just because of a technicality with the rule book. That being said, if the protest is upheld a week later, and the league decided to award a forfeit, then that’s on the first year coach (and his AD) who either didn’t know the rule or didn’t care.

Either way, they are to be held accountable. If you’re going to coach a HS team, make sure you take the time to read the book in full.

 

YOU READY FOR THE NEXT ONE? TURNING TO BASEBALL

You’re the head coach, and your star pitchers is in the middle of a tie game. It’s late in the game, and there’s a close play at home….as an opposing runner tries to score from third with the go-ahead run, your pitcher is covering the plate, receives a throw from the catcher, and the pitcher attempts to tag the runner.

It’s a very, very close play..and the umpire, who is right on top of it, signals the runner out!

The other team goes nuts…and as the opposing coach argues loudly with the umpire, your pitcher – who is now off to the side – quietly tells you that the runner was actually safe…that he swiped at the runner with his glove but he missed the tag.

As the head coach…what do you do..or say…if anything?

The listeners this AM felt universally that even if the ump missed the call, and even if the pitcher says he missed the tag, it’s not upon the coach to “confess” to the umpire. Such a move would be viewed as disrespectful by the umpiring crew. Remember, there’s no replay in HS sports, and whatever the umpire, or ref, or official rules, well, that’s the call – for better or worse.

Long-time good HS coaches warn their players that each game will be full of good calls and not so good calls. But in the end, the players accept the call on the field and move on. There’s no need to “reveal” to the ump what happened.

Can you discuss later on? Sure. But during the game, the call stands.

I’ll come back to this subject in later columns. In the meantime, as a sports parent, feel free to try out these situations on your athletes and see how they react.

 

LEGAL CONCERNS: It’s Time to Review the HS Transfer Rules

If you happened to have heard last Sunday’s show or heard the podcast on WFAN.com, you will recall that we were talking about a most unusual situation in NJ regarding the Wayne Hills HS football team.

The team ended their regular season with a record of 8-1 and seeded number one in their regional playoffs.

But then less than two weeks ago, the team was suddenly informed by the NJSIAA, the state’s athletic governing body, that there was some sort of residency violation involving involving three brothers on the Wayne Hills team. The three kids happen to be stars on the Wayne Hills team. Even more astounding was that the tip came from the superintendent of the Wayne Hills school district.

Sure enough, within a matter of hours, the Wayne Hills team was suspended and forced to sacrifice all of its wins this year due to the infraction. And of course, no playoffs. In effect, Wayne Hills was done for this season.

The team and the parents of the kids on the football were understandably outraged. they protested, got a lawyer, and appealed to the NJ Commissioner of Education, who agreed that the family in question hadn’t been given due process to prove their case that the three brothers were legit, e.g that they were living legally within the school district. In short, the Wayne Hills football program got a temporary break. But they had to go through a formal decision process.

But it was until late Tuesday of this past week when that final hearing was heard and the Wayne Hills football was fully reinstated and allowed to go back and play football in the playoffs. You can just imagine the sense of relief for everybody in that school: the superintendent (who, by the way, was obliged to report any perceived rules violations, the athletic director, principal, coaches, and so on).

According to Patrick Lanni of NJ.com, who was covering this case, the key evidence turned on the fact the three brothers have been living in a one-bedroom apartment with their father for the last two years. It’s a rented apartment within the school district, and they had the paperwork to show that rent had been paid. And although it sounds more than a little cramped with four guys living in a one-bedroom, it was ruled to be legitimate.

No question this was a major hassle for everyone involved. But let’s take a step back. There was a time when HS students transferred because their entire family moved to a different town or locale. And the kids in the family enrolled in the local school. Or perhaps a family enrolled a child in a private or parochial because they wanted a different kind of education for their kid.

But let’s be candid. These days, I would venture that most of the transfers that occur are done by kids (with the full support of their parents) to find a better opportunity in order to showcase their athletic skills. In short, it’s less about the education and more about the athletic opportunities. Even worse, state governing bodies just don’t have the manpower to keep track of all these kids, many of whom not only transfer once but two or three times in their HS career.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

The time has come to sit down and to review and rewrite the transfer rules. In preparing for my show this week, I checked on the rules in California and Florida. Trust me, the rule books are incredibly opaque and difficult to read. And there are plenty of exceptions to each rule.

So here’s what I suggest we do:

Go back and rewrite the transfer rules so that anyone can understand them.

Sounds obvious, but in most states, you need a law degree to figure these rules out.

Put the responsibility on the school districts to check on all the athletes on their teams and make sure they are all legit. 

You can’t expect the state’s governing body to check on each and every transfer. But the school should. That would include the coaching staff, the guidance department, and the athletic department. Make the effort to make sure each kid is actually living full-time in the district. If you don’t, then you bear the full responsibility.

Put real teeth into punishing the kid’s parents. 

No HS kid is going to transfer into another school without his or her parents’ support. If it appears that the parent is simply trying to advance their kid’s athletic career AND the parent is working through loopholes with a transfer, punish the parent! Levy a major fine or consider some other kind of serious penalty. Remember, if their kid is caught in a lie, then the entire team is reprimanded harshly. Let that hard punishment start with the parent.

Is this easy?

No, of course not. But as more and more sports parents try and position their kid for a college scholarship by changing HS via a transfer, it’s time to cut through all the clutter and make the system functional and fair for everyone.

LEGAL CONCERNS: Residency Rules in School Districts Need to be Crystal Clear

What in the world is going on with the Wayne Hills HS football program over in NJ?

For those of you in NJ who already follow HS football, chances are you already know the story. But for everyone else, let me see if I can summarize this briefly.

The Wayne Hills football team — which is a large high school and a perennial powerhouse in the state – finished their regular season with a record of 8-1, and were seeded number one in their New Jersey HS playoff bracket in North 1, Group 4.

Three of their better players happen to be brothers – the Hayak brothers – and they had transferred from St. Joe’s to Wayne Hills in the fall of 2015 – over a year ago. They claim that they filed the appropriate residency paperwork with the school district before they played for Wayne Hills last year. That’s what you’re supposed to do when transferring, and the three boys did in fact play.

Fast forward to this season. Wayne Hills goes 8-1, and the three brothers are an integral part of the team’s success.

But earlier this week, an investigation by the NJ Scholastic Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), based on a tip that came from the Wayne Hills school superintendent, it was concluded by the NJSIAA that these kids had violated the residency rules and were immediately ruled ineligible.  You should know that in NJ, the superintendent is obliged to report any suspected wrongdoing to the NJSIAA, which is what the superintendent did.

You should also know that the superintendent also overseas Wayne Valley in HS in the same town, and Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills are bitter rivals. As one caller suggested this AM, there are strong rumors that somebody from Wayne Valley blew the whistle on the three Wayne Hills players.

Regardless, the NJSIAA edict had an immediate and devastating impact. Because the three football players were ruled to be ineligible, that meant all the victories this year were now thrown out and the entire season was to be forfeited. And of course, with no wins, there are no playoffs.

Outraged, the parents of the Wayne Hills football team challenged this ruling through legal action, and on Thursday, just a couple of days after their season had been forfeited, the ruling was overturned by the Commissioner of Education in NJ.

Why? The Commissioner of Education in NJ said that the kids and their family weren’t given enough of an opportunity to make their case — in effect, there was a lack of due process here, and thus the forfeits were suspended – at least temporarily.

As a result, Wayne Hills returns to playing football, plays its first playoff game on Nov. 19th assuming that this new ruling isn’t overturned in the next week or so. That final ruling will be handed down this coming Tuesday, once the Hayak family has a chance to show their residency paperwork.

As you might imagine, there is lots and lots of emotion on this unusual case. Video shows angry parents yelling and screaming at school officials. And of course, those parents feel vindicated that they got the initial ruling overturned.

But still, we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

As Patrick Lanni, sports writer for NJ.com said on my show this AM, there are all sorts of other impacts this mess with Wayne Hills is having. For one, all the other HS teams in the playoffs have had to immediately do a re-set on their game preparation because the teams they thought they were playing have now all changed. And that could all change again depending what happens this coming week when a final decision is handed down.

SOME QUESTIONS REMAIN

Every state has its own rules and regulations regarding athletes who transfer. But in the sports hot bed of NJ, in my opinion, there tend to be all sorts of questions and loopholes, and questions remain:

Why not make the residency rules as tight as possible, so that athletes are less tempted to make a move.

There needs to an effective way in which to check on these athletes to make sure they are, in fact, living legally within the school district.

There needs clarification on rules regarding kids living with a divorced parent in town….or if they are living in town with a member of an extended family, such as an uncle….or a legal guardian…or whether the kid is living in a rented apartment so he or she can attend that school.

And in this case, why is this challenge to these three brothers being brought up now? The facts are clear they have been in Wayne Hills all of this year and last year as well, and nobody protested. Shouldn’t there be some sort of statute of limitations on this?

In any event, theoretically, all of this will be resolved this coming Tuesday afternoon. Stay tuned….we live in interesting times.

 

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: Kids Pay the Price When Adults Are Out of Control…

 Idaho Youth Football Program Cancels Games Because of Adult Misconduct

 By Doug Abrams

Late last month, the Coeur d’Alene Junior Tackle League canceled the season’s remaining football games against Post Falls, its nearby Idaho rival. The two leagues each outfit several teams, and the cancellations sidelined about 325 players in the fifth- through eighth-grade age brackets.

No media report suggested that the kids had played dirty. Or that the kids had violated league rules or shown disrespect to opponents, coaches, or officials. The wholesale cancellations stemmed instead from misconduct of both leagues’ parents and coaches.

Coeur d’Alene’s president told KREM about “parents arguing with the refs themselves. Coaches arguing with the refs. Out of line behavior up and down the sidelines.”

“We don’t want a YouTube video of a melee,” the president explained to the Bonner County Daily Bee, adding that many referees were unwilling to officiate the overheated games and absorb the abuse.

Regardless of the circumstances that drove this particular case, the Idaho cancellations invite a renewed look at parental and coaching misconduct nationwide – and at how this misconduct can deprive the players, who are, after all, the ultimate beneficiaries of Youth Sports.

The Familiar Script

The script was written years ago: Most problems at youth league games are triggered by people over the age of 18 because many players display sportsmanship and respect better than some parents and coaches do. This turnabout stains the game because adults, not children, are supposed to set the example.

In 2014, the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program released a nationwide Sportsmanship Survey conducted by ORC International. Sixty percent of respondents reported either witnessing or participating in negative or abusive sideline behavior by parents or youth coaches. Twenty-six percent of parents said that they had witnessed a verbally abusive coach, and 16% of parents said that that they had witnessed a physical confrontation between parents. Fifty-five percent of coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials or their own children, and two in five coaches said they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children.

Liberty Mutual’s survey reaffirmed results of a similar survey that the Responsible Sports program had commissioned a year earlier. In the 2013 survey, 40% of youth coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at other children. Fifty-five percent of the coaches said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at their own children. Forty-four percent said that they had experienced parents yelling negatively at officials, and 39% said that they had experienced parents yelling at them.

The Liberty Mutual sportsmanship surveys are not outliers. For example, in an earlier Survey USA poll in Indianapolis, Indiana, 55% of parents said that they had seen other parents engaging in verbal abuse at youth sports events; 21% said that they had seen a physical altercation between other parents. In a Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission survey, 45.3% of youth leaguers said that adults had called them names, yelled at them, or insulted them while they were playing; 17.5% said that an adult had hit, kicked or slapped them during a game; and 8.2% said that they had been pressured to harm opponents intentionally.

International Perspectives

In 2010, Reuters News and the market research company Ipsos conducted a sportsmanship survey in 22 nations. The survey ranked parents in the United States as the world’s “worst behaved” parents at children’s sports events. Sixty percent of U.S. adults who had attended youth sports contests reported that they had seen parents become verbally or physically abusive toward coaches or officials. Runners-up were parents in India (59%), Italy (55%), Argentina (54%), Canada (53%), and Australia (50%).

“It’s ironic that the United States, which prides itself in being the most civilized country in the world, has the largest group of adults having witnessed abusive behavior at children’s sporting events,” said an Ipsos senior vice president.

Winners and Losers

We should view these “eyewitness” surveys in context. The National Alliance for Youth Sports has estimated that about 15% of youth league games involve at least one confrontation between a parent and a coach or official. Assuming this estimate, it matters little whether in the typical sports association, only a relatively small minority of adults cross the line into misconduct; that minority can ruin the experience for other families, including ones who find the misconduct distasteful or otherwise contrary to the atmosphere and values they seek from the association.

Last month’s Idaho game cancelations left no winners, only losers. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls league administrators each recognized that the brunt fell most heavily on the youngsters, who simply wanted to play football.

Beyond northern Idaho, many shortsighted adults overlook the central role that youth league sports can play in strengthening family bonds. When teenagers begin seeking independence from their parents and resisting their influence, organized sports still enables parents to share wholesome activities with their children who wish to play. Most teens want their parents and siblings to attend the games, root for them, and share their experiences. But instead of embracing this opportunity to bring the family together, some parents misbehave in ways that drive their teenagers either to wish that the parents would not attend, or to quit playing altogether.

Youngsters would play just as well, and perhaps better, if their parents and coaches cheered hard for the team, without jeering or taunting one another. And if the adults let the referees or umpires do their jobs free from verbal assault. If officials can hear profanity and other verbal abuse directed at them by parents or coaches, the players on the field can also hear it. Adults should not shout anything from the stands or bench that they would be embarrassed to say in front of the youngsters off the playing field.

Teachable Moments

Wise parents and coaches seek out “teachable moments,” opportunities to educate youth leaguers with positive lessons drawn from negative events. But sometimes the adults can learn as well as teach.

The Idaho youth football cancelations provide yet another reminder that adults can do better for their young athletes who strive to win and perform their best in youth leagues from coast to coast. In a talk reported in the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald earlier this summer, former all-star outfielder Darryl Strawberry delivered this lesson drawn from his 17 seasons in Major League Baseball:

“We need to get back to letting kids have fun and enjoy themselves.  Parents need to chill out. Don’t go to games yelling. Let them play. We just have to get back to understanding that the game is fun. . . . It’s fun. Fun. Remember, fun.”

 

 

Sources: KREM, Taylor Viydo, N. Idaho Football League Cancels Games Due to Parent Behavior (Oct. 21, 2016); Ryan Collingwood, CA’A Cancels Youth Football Games with PF (Oct. 21, 2015); Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, New Survey Identifies Decline of Sportsmanship in Youth Sports According to Parents and Coaches, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/new-survey-identifies-decline-of-sportsmanship-in-youth-sports-according-to-parents-and-coaches;  (June 2, 2014 press release); Parents and Coaches Express Conflicting Opinions Regarding Priorities in Youth Sports, https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/parents-and-coaches-express-conflicting-opinions-regarding-priorities-in-youth-sports; US, India Parents Seen as Worst Behaved at Kids’ Sports, Reuters, Apr. 7, 2010; Jeanie Tavitas-Williams, Play Ball (Not Brawl): Adults Often Forget To Be Good Sports, San Antonio Express-News, Apr. 27, 2004, p. 1C; Douglas E. Abrams, Player Safety in Youth Sports: Sportsmanship and Respect as an Injury-Prevention Strategy, 39 Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, p. 1 (2012); Patrick Ochs, Darryl Strawberry Has the Best Advice For Baseball Parents, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald, June 28, 2016.

 

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: How do You Cuts Kids from Teams During Tryouts?

I want to talk about the age-old concern about getting cut from a team. I want you to consider this potentially life-changing event from the vantage point of the coach, from that of the athlete, and from the perspective of the parent as well.

As long as there has been competitive sports and teams, the truth is, there are usually too many kids who want to be on the team. And as a result, the coaching staff has to make cuts. This could be at varsity, JV, freshman, modified, or travel team.

This process is not easy for anyone. Every coach will tell you that cutting players is the hardest part of their job.

But yet, invariably it has to be done. And coaches, whether you like it or not, you need to step up and own the cut process. That is, you can’t just tell everyone how hard it is and then put yourself  in a position where you are detached from it. You need to communicate, and communicate with a great deal of sensitivity and compassion.

This is why I used the phrase “potentially life-changing” because depending on how the youngster reacts to being let go, being cut from a team can have a seminal impact on a kid’s life. Indeed, several of the callers this morning on my radio show said how they remembered how cruel it was back when they were in HS to see that the coach just listed the final roster on a wall. He used player’s ID numbers instead of their names, but there was no appeal, no chance to reach out to the coach to see whether a kid had come close to making the team, or whether he or she should try out again next year.

As one caller said, “I recall going home and telling my Dad I had been cut, and my Dad asked why….and I had no answer for him.” This kind of no-explanation cut just leaves a deep hole within the individual with no closure. This is why the caller said that as a HS coach himself these days, whenever he makes cuts, he makes it a point to explain to each kid and explain why he didn’t make the team. Yes, this takes a great deal of time, but to the coach, it’s the way the job needs to be done.

I happen to agree with him.

HOW CRUEL CAN YOU BE?

Another caller was incensed that his 9-year-old had been told by his travel team coach that those kids who had the team will receive an email. Those who don’t receive an email should just assume they didn’t make the team.

How cruel is that? Making kids wait for an email that is not going to arrive? Coaches, have the guts to do the right thing and talk with the kids who get cut.

Another caller -this one from Philadelphia – was quite proud of his extensive youth basketball program – which has thousands of kids in it. But when I probed about tryouts and cuts, he admitted that only the final rosters were posted on the league website. That is, if you didn’t see your name, you were cut. I asked him, “Nobody gets an explanation? Why not at least put up a phone number where if a kid or a parent wants to call and find out why they didn’t make the team, they can find out why.”

He agreed that was a good idea. I sure hope he implements it.

My point is this…it falls upon the coach – the so-called grown-up – to do the right thing with kids who have dreams of making the team. Getting cut from a team in sports – especially when you’re in HS- is one of the most painful and frustrating experiences that anyone can go through.

It’s also very hard for one’s parents, friends, and yes, even the coach.

For most of us who play sports seriously, you can vividly recall the real and visceral hurt and disappointment when you didn’t make the team….even if it took place 10 – 20- 30 years or longer, you can still remember the sting.

Think about it. If your youngster loves basketball, and he’s been working his tail off to try and make the varsity team…..only to find out he’s not going to be one of the selected few….that can often force the youngster to make a critically important decision in his young life. Specifically:

Am I just going to redouble my efforts with hoops, and work even harder to make the team next year? Or does the kid say to himself, “Y’now what…I gave this my best shot, and I wasn’t good enough. Time to look for – and to pursue — some other passion in life.”

That’s a tough moment for any kid to be sure. Some kids decide to keep working hard and keep chasing their dream. Many others pack it in.

How does one know? And wow does a parent handle this?

DO THE RIGHT THING

This is very delicate territory. And every youngster responds differently. But it all starts with the coach, and what he or she has to say to the kid.

But if the coach doesn’t even a word, or give any kind of feedback, don’t expect any kid to want to come back and try to make the team next year. My point? Coach, making cuts is tough – we all know that – but do the right thing and take the time to talk with each kid and explain why.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Joy (and Benefits) of Running

Next Sunday morning is the 40th anniversary of the running of the NYC Marathon, and in what has become something of an annual tradition on my radio show, I like to spend at least one Sunday each year talking about the sport of running.

The truth is, among all the various athletic endeavors you should definitely introduce your son or daughter to, clearly the simple act of running is one of the most important.

Why? Because it’s so healthy for them including their physical and mental health…because they can do it for the rest of their lives once their other HS and college athletic careers in their other sports are over…running or jogging is relatively inexpensive compared to many sports….and in a world of highly competitive team sports where kids have to try out and are cut from teams, pretty much anyone can run for their school team and be competitive. In other words, there are so many really good things to be gained about when it comes to running that I feel strongly that all sports parents should encourage their kids to simply enjoy running.

I will tell you that when I was a kid, I loved to run sprints…40 yards, 60 yards and 100 yards…..and I was pretty good at them too. But long-distance running was not something I enjoyed doing.

And yet, as I’ve gotten older, I have found that I look forward these days to just go out and jog. To be able to go out and run 2 or 3 miles, or even just to walk fast for an hour, that’s become a real joy.

About a year ago, when I having issues with my right leg and had to have my hip operated on, I found myself becoming jealous – envious – of seeing people of all ages out for a jog. Why? Because my leg hurt so much that I couldn’t run any more. And I missed it greatly. Thankfully, my hip surgery went well, and I’m back to my routine of jogging several times a week. And it’s great.

Those months when I couldn’t run made me very aware that I should never take the most basic skill of sports – running – for granted. And either should you. Or your kids.

Which brings me to the guest from my show this AM – Coach Joel Pasternack, one of the most respected running coaches in the New York City area.

He’s been running for 51 years…Joel is currently 66….and he’s based in Clifton, NJ.

In all those years he’s run 125,260 miles. In the 1974 Boston marathon Joel placed 28th in a time of 2 hours 25 minutes and three seconds…. In the 1976 NYC marathon he placed 25th in a time of 2 hours 27 minutes and 37 seconds. Overall, Joel has run a total of 16 marathons between 1971- 1991.

Joel has coached for 41 years at the youth, high school and college level. These days he’s coaching a middle and high school team, two adult running clubs, some town recreation programs and some private clients. You can go to joelrun.com web site if you’d like to find out more.

Joel always reminds parents to tell kids when they first start out to go at a slow pace. No need to sprint out to the front of the pack. Run at your own pace. He advises that if you’re running with a partner, you should be able to have a conversation with the other runner without having to huff and puff. If you can’t, then you’re running at too fast a pace.

He uses the comparison to the fable of the Turtle and the Hare. The Hare runs out fast, but soon runs out of gas. Meanwhile, the Turtle runs at a slow and steady pace, and eventually wins the race. Joel feels that’s a perfect lesson for any beginning runners.

He also says that kids just starting out should not run long distances more than three times a week. That sort of surprised me. But Joel made it clear that developing legs and joints should not be stressed early in a kid’s career.

But overall, the act of running is a wonderful exercise, and even if your son or daughter is not competitive at it, it’s still one of the best, and least expensive, sports that one can truly enjoy and benefit from. As Joel points out, when he first ran in the NYC Marathon in the 1970s, there were only 3,000 runners. These days, there are 50,000 runners and there’s a long waiting list. Clearly the sport has caught on in a big, big way. And it should be no surprise that the most popular sport in HS across the USA these days is NOT football or basketball or soccer – but track and field and cross country running.

GETTING CUT: What Today’s Parents Have to Keep in Mind

As we enter into the cooler months of the school year, that means that active try outs for basketball and ice hockey teams are looming. Both sports tend to be very competitive in terms of eager and hopeful kids who want to make the squad, especially in the middle school, travel team, or high school levels.

But here’s the problem. With both of these popular sports, making a team is extremely competitive simply because so few kids can play in a game at a time. In basketball, of course, only five can play. With ice hockey, there’s the goalie and five skaters. True, at least with ice hockey, skaters constantly go out and take the ice in short shifts during a game for a minute or two, but even then, very few hockey teams carry more than 15-16 players. And with power plays or penalty kills, it’s usually only the top or more talented players who grab the lion’s share of playing time. Everybody else on the bench sits and watches.

And with basketball, the coach usually plays his or her top five boys or girls in much the same manner. The other kids sit on the bench and wait, hopefully to get a few minutes of playing time.

Mind you – these are the kids who made the team. Every kid on the squad has talent, and had to perform well during the tryouts to be good enough to make the team. So while they’re focusing on what they can do in practice to gain the coach’s eye to get more playing time, at least they’re a member of the team.

But what about the kids who don’t even make it that far? What happens to them?

In other words, what happens to those who get cut?

KILLING DREAMS AT TOO YOUNG AN AGE

For some, especially at the younger ages, say 9 or 10, trying out for the team and not making it is disappointing, but perhaps not crushing. They like the sport, but they fortunately have other interests in life that they move on to.

But for many others, especially for those kids who love basketball or ice hockey, not making the team at an early age is not only devastating in its impact, but it often puts them in a difficult dilemma, e.g. do they keep on playing that sport? Do they just give up? What do you say, as a parent, that is the right mix of encouragement as well as reality?

And of course, how can it be fair for a kid at 10 years ago to be seen as not being on the fast-track, like one’s friends? So many kids go through adolescence and then go through a major growth spurt that it’s unconscionable (and unbelievable) when they’re 18 to think they were cut as a youngster. Even worse, sadly, too many kids, when cut at an early age, just decide to walk away from the sport and vow never to come back to it.

To me, this is all a horrible shame. And it’s something that never happened to aspiring athletes a generation ago, long before there were travel teams and modified teams. In those days, kids (and their parents) really didn’t have to deal with the excruciating agony of try outs until, perhaps, the kid reached 9th grade. By then, by age 14, most kids are pretty well versed in their self-assessment, and they can see for themselves how their athletic talents compare with their peers. But at age 9 or 10, kids just don’t have that cognitive ability.

It’s often observed that as time marches on, we make more and more progress in our society. But when it comes to youngsters in sports and seeing their dreams get crushed when they get cut at a young age, I really feel we’re going backwards.

ABUSIVE COACHES: Losing One’s Perspective During the Post-Game Handshake

When Coaches’ Misconduct Disrupts Post-Game Handshake Lines

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, the Omaha World-Herald reported that police ticketed a 52-year-old coach for suspected assault and battery on a 10-year-old opponent as the teams traded high-fives in the post-game handshake line after a flag football game. According to writer Kevin Cole, the Omaha coach (whose team had just lost decisively) grabbed the player by the collar and nearly lifted him off his feet. The coach allegedly told police afterwards that he “snapped and lost his temper” because the player had slapped his hand “too hard.” “You will respect me!,” the coach told the boy.

The local youth football association immediately banned the coach, and prosecutors contemplated whether also to charge him with suspicion of disorderly conduct. I have found no later media accounts of the legal outcome, but the incident that Cole reports sheds light on coaches’ leadership roles moments after youth teams have finished a game.

“Models of Good and Acceptable Behavior”

In a variety of youth sports, most post-game handshake lines proceed without incident as they reinforce the sportsmanship and mutual respect that youth leagues and interscholastic competition strive to teach competitors. Last month’s Omaha incident is not the first disruption, however, nor is it the first disruption instigated by a coach who lacked self-control expected from a team leader.

In a handshake line after a pee wee hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012, for example, the winning team’s 48-year-old coach intentionally stuck out his leg and tripped a 13-year-old opponent, whom the coach had berated from the bench throughout the game.  The player broke his wrist when he fell onto a teammate. A spectator’s video, which quickly went viral, showed the coach pointing menacingly at the boy immediately after the tripping.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrpVzRyxhuk (1:12).

The Vancouver coach pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and the court sentenced him to 15 days in jail, to be served on consecutive weekends. “Society,” said the judge, “will not tolerate the assault of children by adults.” He called coach’s sentence “a signal to other parents heavily involved in the sporting activities of their children that they must be seen as models of good and acceptable behavior and not as instigators of violence and of riotous behavior.”

“Follow the Leader”

A Kentucky school superintendent recently said this about the value of post-game handshake lines: “Teaching our students to win and lose graciously are life lessons that we hope and expect coaches to embrace.” The superintendent urged principals and athletic directors to “[a]sk coaches to remember that very few of our students will be college and professional athletes. However, ALL of them need to be able to demonstrate character at crucial times.”  The point is that most men and women face periodic setbacks throughout adulthood, and that resilience learned on the playing field can increase the prospects for overcoming adversity.

When they explain to players the value of post-game handshakes, coaches can share wisdom from Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken. “The most important lesson I’ve learned from sports,” she says, “is how to be not only a gracious winner, but a good loser as well.  Not everyone wins all the time; as a matter of fact, no one wins all the time. Winning is the easy part; losing is really tough. But, you learn more from one loss than you do from a million wins.  You learn a lot about sportsmanship.”

“It’s really tough to shake the hand of someone who just beat you,” Van Dyken specifies, “and it’s even harder to do it with a smile.  If you can learn to do this and push through that pain, you will remember what that moment is like the next time you win and have a better sense of how those competitors around you feel. This experience will teach you a lot on and off the field!”

The title of “youth coach” confers responsibility to set an example before, during, and after games. Coaching resembles a process of “follow the leader” because players learn from what they watch. Even after a game when the team has come up short, coaches participating in handshake lines need to remain above the fray because actions speak louder than words. Coaches teach self-control by maintaining self-control.

 

Sources: Kevin Cole,  Youth Football Coach Accused of Attacking 10-Year-Old After Boy High-Fives Him ‘Too Hard”, Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 30, 2016; Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping Child, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), Feb. 27, 2013; Sam Adams, Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping 13-Year-Old Player As Teams Shake Hands After Junior Game, MailOnline (England), Feb. 27, 2013; Backlash Ensues After No Handshake Directive, http://www.wlwt.com/article/backlash-ensues-after-no-handshake-directive/3536011 (Oct. 10, 2013); Amy Van Dyken Quotes, Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directivehttp://www.azquotes.com/author/26506-Amy_Van_Dykenhttps://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090216120321AASqj65 (quoting Van Dyken)

TRENDS IN SPORTS: TAKING A KNEE – PART TWO

i had a very strong response to last week’s show and blog posting regarding HS kids taking a knee to protest racial oppression in this country. I was impressed with the smart comments  on both sides of the issue, all dealing with the balancing of patriotic respect for our country v. one’s guarantee of freedom of speech.

But as the calls and emails poured in, one theme was very constant. Specifically, what are the correct or proper or legal parameters should coaches and teachers and athletic directors follow? That is, if confronted with this kind of situation, how should one react, if at all?

Some of the questions that came my way included:

1 – If a HS athlete doesn’t have to stand for the National Anthem, does he or she have to at least remain quiet and be respectful?

Or does he or she have the right – under the first amendment of freedom of speech —  to have a casual conversation with a friend or with a parent who’s at the game? Or can they even sing a different song – perhaps even a song of protest?

2 – If a public HS coach tells his team at the start of the season that he has a long-standing rule that every kid on the team stand for the National Anthem – and then the coach even has each kid voluntarily sign a letter of agreement to do so – can the coach then cut a kid who disobeys that mandate during the season?

3 – Or as one caller suggested: if a kid is on a HS team, then he or she knows that they are representing the school and the team – and as such, the team takes precedence over the individual’s rights to make a protest. In other words, if you are a true member of a team, there’s no exceptions for individual protests.

Think about that one, because in many ways it really gets to the heart of the issue.

But another long-time HS coach said: “I don’t care what the kid does or protests before the game…but once the game begins, he is a member of the team…and the team takes top priority.”

 

PUBLIC V. NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS

There is a legal separation between parochial/private schools and public schools. Since public schools are funded by tax payer dollars, coaches do not have the right to set down rules to prevent individual protests or to abridge the rights of students to express themselves.

But parochial/private schools are different since they are funded by the parents who pay for their kids to attend. For example, some private and parochial schools have a rule that all males have to wear a jacket and tie every day to school. AND that every student-athlete has to stand respectfully for the National Anthem before games.

Top attorneys have told me that this is perfectly legal, even though it seems to set a double standard between public and no-public schools.

Don’t forget. For years, many HS football coaches at public HS used to lead their teams in a pre-game prayer. Coaches can no longer do that —  unless, of course, they are coaching at a private school.

U.S. SUPREME COURT RULINGS ON PROTESTS

On last week’s show, I mentioned a famous Supreme Court case from 1943 about kids who were Jehovah Witnesses who didn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The U.S. Supreme Court said that was indeed their right not to do so.

There was also a famous Supreme Court in 1965 – the Tinker case, as it’s known  — regarding a HS kid and his siblings who wore black arm bands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. This took places in Des Moines, and the school ordered the kids to remove their arm bands or be suspended from school. But the U.S. Supreme Court said the kids were within their rights to wear the armbands to school so long as they were non-disruptive and peaceful.

 

I seem to recall there was a bit of controversy earlier this fall when the star quarterback at UCLA – Josh Rosen – was putting forth a lot of his opinions on politics on social media, and there was some call to try and silence him. After all, people were saying, this is not the role of a college QB to voice political opinions.

But to his credit, Rosen simply pointed out and said, in effect, “I’m a college kid, and college kids have a lot of opinions…it’s what college kids do….I don’t see how my political views have anything to do with my football playing.”

And you know what? He’s absolutely right.

So where are we these days with taking a knee protests? Well, one thing is certain. It’s still a very muddled situation. But that being said, I would counsel parents and coaches see this as a teachable moment for parents to talk over with their kids.

To me, the key elements here are these:

1 – Make sure your son or daughter fully understands the cause they’re supporting. Get them to try and explain why they are protesting.

2 – Make sure they understand the possible long-range consequences of their actions. That’s important and often overlooked by kids.

3 – And make sure that if they do their protest, it has to be done with Respect for others around them who may not agree with them….and that the protest has to be done in a Peaceful and Civil Manner.

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: When HS Athletes Protest by Taking a Knee….

So you and your family are sitting down to have dinner this fall, and let’s say your son,  who plays varsity football at your local HS, suddenly announces at the dinner table that he agrees with what Colin Kapaernick is doing in terms of protesting racial bias and oppression in this country —  and to show his solidarity, your son is going to take a knee when they play the National Anthem at his next HS football game.

As a sports parent, or even as a coach, what do you say or do? There has been a ton of debate about this issue for several weeks,  but very little has focused on the filter down effect on HS athletes. As a sports parent, if you haven’t thought about this issue up until now, this might be a good time to give this some thought. Not just your own personal opinion. But thinking about how you would react if your son or daughter took a knee.

Let’s assume, as several of my callers said this AM, that such an act is clearly unpatriotic and shows no respect for what the United States stands so. “We stand as a team,” commented one HS coach, “and I expect all of my players to stand for the National Anthem. No exceptions.”

When I then asked the coach what he would do if this situation actually presented itself, he confessed that he didn’t know what he would do. I reminded him that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and was even upheld in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. But the coach seemed unfazed. He couldn’t get beyond how unpatriotic this act was.

Another sports Dad called in and said that young athletes today have to be held accountable for their actions – that they need to learn early on that there might be consequences to any actions they take now, including a taking a knee to protest. The father suggested that he would discuss with his son why he was staging a quiet protest, and then would inform his son that “That’s okay, but please understand that I won’t be attending your game,” meaning, in effect, that the father didn’t want to be there in person when all the other parents, coaches, and fans looked at his son’s actions. The Dad didn’t want to be there because of possible embarrassment.

In other words, his son would have to put up with the consequences of not  having his father watch him play in his HS games.

WHO’S RIGHT? WHO’S WRONG?

Let me add that some schools and states  simply do not allow athletes to take a knee.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that some school districts in CA, in response to the take a knee protests, have formally warned their student-athletes not to do so. These warnings carry some real teeth, including being punished for disobedience, possible suspension or being dismissed from the team, or having their grades lowered.

Closer to home, the Diocese in Camden NJ has also put forth a statement that not standing during the National Anthem is a sign of real disrespect, and will simply not be tolerated.

There doesn’t seem to be any standard or uniform approach on this issue. And of course, coaches and AD’s and educators are looking for some real guidance on this. And that seems to be a main part of the problem. And the concept is also spreading into other avenues. For example, close to 20 members of the East Carolina University marching band took a knee last week at a game….and a number of football fans in attendance at the game booed them, and showered them with garbage.

And then there’s the football team from Las Vegas. In this incident, the entire team took a knee before their last game. But this was a team of 5 and 6 year olds playing football. You have to wonder whether these young kids had a real and true understanding of what they were protesting.

A LITTLE CIVICS LESSON

To help shed some light on this issue, let me first deal with the legality of all this this.

During the beginning of WW II in 1943 after Pearl Harbor was bombed, as you might imagine, Americans were outraged at being attacked. And to help build solidarity, lots of towns and school boards across the US passed a mandate that school kids had to stand up every morning in class , salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

But in a small town in West Virginia where this patriotic law was passed, the resolution allowed no exemptions because it was felt that, after all:  “national unity is the basis of national security.” Yet in this particular town, there was a group of  Jehovah’s Witnesses, a small religious group that was held in contempt by many Americans for, among other things, their refusal to serve in the military,… AND their refusal by the kids of these Jehovah Witnesses to salute the Flag, or to recite the Pledge. As part of their faith, they don’t believe in doing such things.

In other words, these young students were exercising their freedom of religion….and their freedom of speech….and would not stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, even though the US was fighting for its life in WW II. You can just imagine the kind of outrage this generated in this town.

It all ended up in court. The case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which held in a landmark decision that yes, these students had every right to NOT stand up, to NOT salute the American flag, or they were NOT obligated to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

In other words, that it was, in effect, their American right NOT to participate.

To me, this is very, very similar to what’s going on now with the take a knee protests. Whether you like it or not, these athletes definitely have the right to protest in a civil manner for what they believe in.

 

In other words, the way I read this Barnette case from 1943 as adjudicated by the US Supreme Court, all of today’s student athletes AND coaches have the absolute right to take a knee during the National Anthem if they so choose.

I’m not a lawyer. But in discussing this matter with some of the nation’s top attorneys, I understand that the Barnette case is still very much in effect…that means that any school boards or states or leagues which try to BAN kids from taking a knee or PUNISH kids who protest are in violation of that famous Supreme Court ruling.

SO WHAT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO? 

To me, if your son or daughter decide to stage a protest and take a knee, as a parent, I would strongly suggest you sit down with the youngster and first ask them why they are protesting. Allow them plenty of room to make their case. Hopefully, they will have some real and substantial reasons for their actions. But, for example, if they say, “All my friends are doing it….I don’t want to be the only one not taking part,” then you might want to take this moment to have a real heart-to-heart with your youngster.

On the other hand, if they really have given this some real thought, then understand that they are certainly entitled to their opinion, just as you are. And if they have really thought the issue through, you can respond by saying you don’t disagree. That’s the essence of free speech and debate in this country.

And if nothing, this kind of situation forces kids — and parents – to think about the concept of American freedom, about the real sacrifices made during wars, and of course, one’s own feelings about life in the US today.